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August 11, 2020

6/3/2020 2:20:00 PM
Special graduation ceremony proves a popular alternative
Ethan Stevens receives his diploma from Superintendent Teresa Brown as JCHS Principal Dustin Roller prepares to hand him a celebratory symbolic flower.—Staff Photo
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Ethan Stevens receives his diploma from Superintendent Teresa Brown as JCHS Principal Dustin Roller prepares to hand him a celebratory symbolic flower.—Staff Photo
Kylan Higgs

Despite storm clouds that threatened on Friday May 29, the JCHS Class of 2020 was not about to let anything rain on their graduation parade.

Due to Covid-19, many high school seniors were left wondering if they would ever get to commemorate their hard work and perseverance, a concerned graduate Kayla Pappenheim cited in her Co-Salutatorian speech.

"On the last day of school, we left the building unknowing if we would return. We asked questions like 'What if they cancel prom?' and 'What about graduation?' to our teachers, hoping for answers that we wanted to hear... Little did we know that we would never again enter the building as JCHS students."

Senior year certainly left a lot to be desired due to the Coronavirus outbreak. Not wanting the Class of 2020 to miss out on such an important life event, JCHS Principal Dustin Roller and several other JCSC staff collaborated in order to provide graduating students with a chance to celebrate their academic achievements while keeping in mind social-distancing guidelines.

And so, at 3 p.m. on May 29, Emily Waldo became the first graduating senior to walk across the stage in the Charles W Hurley Gymnasium at Jennings County High School and receive her diploma. Emily's parents, her brother, Connor, her aunt, great-aunt, grandfather and a few friends all watched as she crossed the stage and was handed her diploma by Superintendent Teresa Brown.

"It's a little sad," Emily said of the ceremony, "but this is how it is." Emily is looking forward to going to college at IU Bloomington and getting to have new experiences. She has considered going into nursing, but is still undecided on her major.

Every student who succeeded Emily followed the same pattern on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. They each walked into the gym with their friends and family, donned their medal -along with their honors stole and/or cords, depending on their allotted accolades - before approaching the stage. Senior class sponsor Molly Jones read their name into a microphone as they climbed the steps. Superintendent Brown would hand them their certificate and Principal Roller would give them a blue flower - some students asked that they be allowed to simply pick up their items from an onstage table if they did not wish to be handed them. Once they left the stage, they were given a goody bag and stopped to pick up their official diploma before leaving to celebrate elsewhere or take photos.

The small crowd that was in the gym, consisting of various staff and community members, did everything possible to make each student feel welcomed and celebrated.

"The amount of support our kids have from the community, the staff and their families is amazing" said Principal Roller.

It seemed the general consensus among the family and friends who gathered for each graduate was that, though it was not the ideal graduation ceremony, this year's version definitely had its perks: It was quick and efficient, but more importantly, it was intimate and personable. The atmosphere in the gym gave one the impression that the whole event was dedicated to that one graduating student onstage.

"It was exciting," said Sarah Stevens, whose son, Ethan, was the first graduate on Saturday to walk across the stage. "I'm happy they were able to do this for the seniors. They went above and beyond."

Various family members thanked Principal Roller and Superinten-dent Brown personally, and the high school principal would always reply with great sincerity, "It's our pleasure."

Several students smiled brightly with shining eyes; some eyes shined with joy, though some eyes shined with tears of mixed emotions.

"It's not what I was expecting, but it was enough for me," lamented one teary-eyed graduate.

It goes without saying that most of the seniors would have preferred a proper ceremony after years of dedicating themselves to their studies. But as Senior Class President and Co-Valedictorian Wyatt St. John wrote in his commencement speech, "There will always be problems to face, but we cannot let them bring us down and hold us back from reaching our full potential."

A total of 223 students walked the stage during graduation weekend. Fifty-five graduates walked across the stage on Friday, 105 walked on Saturday, and 63 on Sunday. Seniors who did not walk during the weekend can schedule a private stage walk Monday-Friday from June 1 to 12 during business hours 7:30-11:30 or from 12-4. All graduation materials are also available for pickup in the main office during those hours for seniors not interested in walking.

The JCHS 52nd Annual Commencement ceremony was definitely different and one to remember. A heartfelt congratulations to the Class of 2020! an good luck with all your future endeavors!

(See graduation speeches on B1 and a special Class of 2020 insert in today's paper.)

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